Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Sweet Land of Liberty: Religious Rights and Jury Duty

 

Every now and then, God, in his infinite mercy, sends an abundance of blessings, covers us with blessings. In a time in which I have found myself uncharacteristically  depressed and anxious about the path our country is taking, for one brief moment, the last few days, all depression has lifted and all anxieties have calmed.

One source of anxiety has been a personal matter, a family matter, and that has resolved itself graciously, happily, with a great feeling of relief and gratitude.

For Sunday, July 2nd, our priest had prepared us for a new set of studies, kicked off by an examination of Democracy and Religion. There were rules – 1) Be nice (that’s what they say in the South for ‘be civil’) and 2) Try to see the issue through the eyes of someone with whom you disagree.

The church hall was set up with twenty-four chairs. A half hour before he was due to start, people started pouring in, and we started pulling out more chairs, and more chairs and more chairs. He actually started off early with a reflection on our Old Testament reading, the story of Abraham and the almost-sacrifice of Isaac. (My Moslem friends correct me; they tell me it was Isaac. Let’s just agree that it was Abraham and a son, and perhaps the details will come clear on the other side of the great divide.) More people arrived, more chairs put out until we were out of chairs. Toward the end of the discussion on Religious rights and Democracy, I did a quick count of chairs and people standing and figured we had over ninety people – and one of the best Sunday School classes ever.

Our priest took a Socratic approach, asking questions, bringing in current topics. In these times of divided opinions, there was, surprisingly, a lot of laughter. My favorite moment was when we were discussing limits on religious freedoms, and things that there are laws against – live animal sacrifices, bigamy, sale of alcohol on Sunday before 11 a.m. – then one of the lawyers added “How about serving liquor to minors without checking IDs every Sunday?” That got a big laugh. It’s what we do; we use real wine in the communion cup, it’s Anglican / Episcopalian tradition. And yep, even young children get to take a sip. Oops.

As divided as we are, as it turns out, we have a lot in common. It takes a lot of courage to open up such a topic to the congregation. We all behaved. I think we all came away thinking we need more of this.

The very next day, yesterday, I was at the County Courthouse for my first ever call to jury duty. Well, this was my first ever call where I actually was living in the United States and able to show up. While we lived overseas, I would have to get on my VOIP late at night when the Clerk’s office opened and tell them I was living in (Germany. Kuwait. Qatar. Saudi Arabia. Jordan. Tunis. Take your pick.)

Jury duty is an exercise in tedium. At one point when the large selection pool left a courtroom, one of the potential jurors was going “Baaaa baaaaa baaaaa; we are all like sheep.” You park in one place and get on a trolley to the courthouse, you line up to enter the courthouse, you gather in a room and you wait to be called. You get instructions, you watch instructive videos, you get pep talks on your civic duty.

I had my eyes opened in a lot of ways. First, that I would guess more than two hundred people showed up, and this was a Monday between the weekend and the Fourth of July holiday. Many had to take time off from work to show up. We were supposed to be in “business’ dress, but this is Florida, and I guess ‘business dress’ is a matter of interpretation.

Groups would be called to go before judges for jury selection. There were many cases, so almost all of us were a part of one group or another. From my group, juries were being chosen for three trials, so they asked a lot of questions up front that would pertain to all three trials, then the lawyers for the prosecution and the lawyers for the defense would ask questions.

The questions surprised me. They named the witnesses, and the defendants were there in the courtroom; they asked if anyone knew the defendant or any of the witnesses. They asked about our prejudices for or against law enforcement officials, and could we overcome our prejudice to listen to the evidence fairly. They asked about our own court experiences, and they asked about our convictions for drug use, and other things. Many of my pool had served many times on juries and knew how things went. Many were reluctant, yet, there they were. Serving. Doing their duty.

Here is what really surprised me – at least in Florida, the defendant, who is sitting there through all the questioning, gets a say in who will be on his jury. I had no idea! We don’t see a lot of jury selection on TV (although the lady sitting next to me said I need to watch a show called Bull, where jury selection is what the show is about.)

None of the defendants wanted me, and I can understand why. They want people on the juries to truly be as close to their peers as possible, people who can identify with being arrested, maybe even convicted of a crime. They want people who might give them the benefit of the reasonable doubt.

How often have you been arrested? My son, who has been a part of the system, once told me that there are Americans who never have a brush with The Law, other than maybe a traffic ticket or a DWI. Now and then, I ask my friends. None has ever been inside a jail, but these days, a friend or two has a child who has become involved with heavy drug use, and has spent some heart-breaking time in the system.

It was a long day, full of tedium. I thought about the judge, and the lawyers, who go through this day after day, asking the same questions, looking out at groups full of people who maybe don’t even want to be there, going through the process to insure that our system is as fair as possible, day after day, month after month. I had no idea that the wheel of justice ground so finely, so relentlessly, on and on. I had no idea what stoic determination it takes to be a part of that system, and trying to make sure that while the state makes the case, the defendants rights are protected.

I’ve lived, as you know, in countries where justice prevails – occasionally. I remember living in one country, which was peaceful, and thinking to myself that they were educating a lot of people for positions they will never be able to fill, because they are not in the elite.

We have all seen, in every country, that those with the money to buy the best legal protection can often escape the consequences of their crime, but there is hope, for me,  even in making them stand trial.

I had no idea how proud I would feel at the end of the day, being a part of this huge effort, seeing how many of my fellow citizens, at great sacrifice to themselves, showed up. I had no idea what an education it would be for me. I had no idea how often those who least want to serve are those chosen to serve – and they persist. They show up.

I was in a room with maybe two hundred people from all walks of life. We were really just numbers, there to fill a systemic need. Some may even be, like me, a little cynical about how much justice our system really delivers . . . and we show up.

One of the defense lawyers yesterday asked us “Do you know what we are here about today?” and while we were all thinking about the charges, she answered “we are here about this man’s liberty. We’ll be deciding where he will spend his time in the next weeks, and months and years. We’ll be deciding his liberty.”

I’m glad I showed up.

Happy Fourth of July 🙂

 

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July 4, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues, Stranger in a Strange Land, Transparency | , , , , | Leave a comment

News Fatigue

I had a group of women delegates from a variety of countries, some were elected officials, all were active in their countries. It was a fast-paced visit, with many meetings at colleges, with groups and with activists, and by the third day, we knew each other well.

At lunch, as I often do, I asked them what surprised them most about their time in this country.

“The news!” the representative from Australia said, without hesitation. “Your news is so exciting! In our country we have news, but nothing so exciting as in your country. Sometimes we don’t even pay any attention, because nothing that exciting is happening. Here, something is happening all the time, and you get glued to your television.”

The others chimed in, stating similar opinions. They talked about how the election had affected women in their own countries, how the shock resonated still.

AdventureMan and I just got back from two weeks visiting a wonderful part of our country, the four corners, Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. Much of the time, we had no service on our phones and woeful wifi in our rooms. We were unconnected. It was, frankly, wonderful.

This current president likes attention. He creates drama. Other presidents get down to the hard work of leading and working their agenda through congress, he attempts to unite a diverse population behind him. This president does what he pleases, and says what he will, with no regard for his position. He claims to be a very smart man, and yet he has a pattern of saying very stupid things, and behaving in a disorderly manner. It’s like watching a disaster about to happen. It’s riveting, but you reach a point where you say “enough!” We were relieved to be disconnected.

And now we are back for the busiest and most event-filled news week so far. Arrgh.

(I will write up the trip as soon as I can upload my photos. My computer says I don’t have enough space to store all the photos I took, so we are working a solution . . . )

Yesterday, we saw this bumper sticker:  Elect a clown, expect a circus.

This is America. I am legally allowed to say these things about our leader. 🙂

May 19, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Character, Cross Cultural, Entertainment, ExPat Life, Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council, Interconnected, Leadership, Living Conditions, News, Political Issues, Quality of Life Issues, Rants, Road Trips, Social Issues, Stranger in a Strange Land, Women's Issues | , | Leave a comment

“You Shall Also Love the Stranger”

In this morning’s lectionary readings from Deuteronomy, I find words of hope this morning:

 

Deuteronomy 10: 17 – 18

17For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, 18who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing. 19You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

 

I often tell my friends that I encountered very good Christians as I lived among the Moslems; they believe in Christ, and as we differ among ourselves as Christians, they also differ from us. Some of the differences are significant, and at the same time, I am aware that Christians did not agree – and still do not agree – on Christ’s divinity. So I look at the fruits of the spirit, I look at actions, and I look at being faithful to God’s intentions for us as his creation. I welcome the stranger as the stranger so often welcomed us.

Right now, it shames me that our very Christian country is no longer hospitable to the stranger. We were the shining light of hope in the world. Now we are led by a me-first bully, who will rob the poor even of their access to affordable health care to fill his pickets and those of his cronies. He forgets we are all strangers in a strange land, and will have to answer for our misdeeds.

I take courage in the spiritual renewal of resistance; there are those who continue to welcome, clothe and feed the stranger, who are fighting against injustice in the criminal and legal system, who are fighting for a woman’s equal place in this country, who are protecting the widows and orphans, the very things we are called to do. For the first time in my life, I am a member of the ACLU. I continue to receive training as a spirit warrior.  We use our increased investments to fund Planned Parenthood. We strive to feed the hungry and clothe those without clothing.

We laugh, as we discuss issues in our classes, at our activities, over lunch, that at this later stage in life, we could be so reactivated 🙂

March 10, 2017 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Character, Community, Counter-terrorism, Cultural, ExPat Life, Faith, Friends & Friendship, Interconnected, Leadership, Lectionary Readings, Lent, Living Conditions, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues, Stranger in a Strange Land, Values, Women's Issues | 3 Comments

It’s My Party! Here There and Everywhere Hits Ten Years

I keep telling you I am quitting, and I am not. Today, September 6th, ten years ago, I was sitting in my aerie in Kuwait, overlooking the Arabian Gulf, when I gathered all my nerve and went public.

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I’d always wanted to write.

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What better time? While every move was a great adventure, there was a downside. The downside is that it takes a while to gather your “band of brothers” (mine tend to be mostly sisters), your buddies, your protection against the inevitable rudeness of life. I was still reeling from leaving the strong band we had formed in Qatar (and still we are in touch, celebrating and protecting one another), and I was not yet sure where my Kuwait friends would come from.

I was in for a big surprise. I met wonderful friends through blogging. To the best of my knowledge, I am the last one standing of my blogging friends at that time; they were crucial to my investment in Kuwait, and the returns on that investment. I learned from them, I changed a lot of my thinking due to new ideas they introduced, and I profited greatly from our relationships. The friendships I formed in Kuwait rocked my world.

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I was so scared, at the beginning, putting myself and my ideas out there. I loved the feedback I got, and get. I wanted a place to tell my stories so I wouldn’t forget them, and to ponder things I still don’t understand well. Your feedback and input are a great gift to me.

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I still love sharing our trips with you, and, from time to time, puzzlements from my own culture. I’m still that little girl from Juneau, Alaska, a stranger in a strange land.

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Thank you for a wonderful ten years. No, I am not planning to stop. I’ve had to be more patient with myself. Expat lives have spaces in them, time is different outside the United States, less full-all-the-time. I can’t blog the way I used to. I can’t quilt the way I used to. My time is full with AdventureMan, and grandchildren, and family, and church, and volunteer experiences.

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We have a wonderful life, and we still get restless. We take two large trips a year now, to satisfy that wanderlust, and smaller trips to Mobile for Syrian food, to New Orleans for the escape and for Ethiopian food, to Atlanta to see friends, to Seattle to see family – and for Chinese food, to Panama City and Apalachicola for family and oysters.  LOL, yes, there is a pattern. And meanwhile, we are surrounded by some of the best Gulf seafoods, and some of the best BBQ in the world, but man cannot live on BBQ alone.

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Thank you for hanging in there for all these years, and for all the fun we’ve had together. Thank you for helping me learn about and understand the nuances, the deep underbellies of the cultures I otherwise would have skimmed over, never knowing the depth and richness I was missing out on. Thank you for your friendships, and for all the stories you have shared with me in the background that helped me see things differently. It’s you who have rocked my world, with your honesty and your bravery.

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And while you are here, have some mint tea – yes, the mint is from our garden – and cake. Those Venetian ones are soaked in liqueurs, but there are some chocolate ones, and a gingered fruit or two . . .  You are always welcome.

September 6, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Arts & Handicrafts, Biography, Blogging, Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Friends & Friendship, Interconnected, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Moving, Pensacola, Stranger in a Strange Land, Travel | 10 Comments

Cross Culture at the Y: “Don’t Ever Say That to an African American”

I had just finished chatting with Leilani and was getting ready for class to start when my class friend who in in front of me came up to me and put her arm around me. We are always joking around, so I was laughing, and she said “I have something to tell you.”

I pulled back a little because I could see she was serious, and I wanted to see her face.

She said “Last week in the pool you said you were gonna kick my butt. Don’t ever say that to an African-American.”

She is black.

She could see I was confused. I did say it. We joke around, and sometimes there isn’t a lot of space. Her behind was right in front of me, a tempting target. I did say it.

“We never say that in the black community,” she continued. “Our Mama’s never allow that kind of statement. Remember, we were slaves. We’d be on the ground, and people would put their feet on us. People would kick us. To say that to a black person is one of the worst things you could say.”

“I am so sorry. I didn’t know.”

“I know you didn’t. That’s why I’m telling you.” She still had her arm around me. “We hear you people saying that to each other like it’s nothing. It’s something to us.”

I was so thankful she told me, and so embarrassed.

“I was oblivious,” I said. “I had no idea. I am so sorry.”

Later, as we usually do, we talked during class.

“Do you really just say that to each other?” she asked me.

“We do! It’s the kind of thing we say to friends; I would say that to my sister, it’s sort of mock-rivalry sort of talk,” I responded, thinking to myself ‘but I will never never never ever say that again to anyone!’

Later, I thanked her for telling me, and she said she knew I had no idea how offensive it was; it was a cultural thing. I am grateful she trusted that enough to clue me in.

As uncomfortable as that conversation was, I admire her for initiating it, and correcting me in a loving way, for telling me how it feels, and why. I am grateful that she trusts who I am, a person who would never choose to offend, but a person who had, nonetheless, offended, and who would want to know. I feel like it was a genuinely friendly thing to do, and she did it with good will in her  heart.

So even in my own country, there are cultural crevasses I can fall into in oblivious unawareness.

And all of that in one morning at the YMCA.

June 30, 2016 Posted by | Civility, Communication, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Exercise, Friends & Friendship, Interconnected, Pensacola, Relationships, Social Issues, Stranger in a Strange Land, Values | 2 Comments

Cross Culture at the Y: “It’s OK to Feel Sad”

My first encounter this morning was in the locker room, with the young water aerobics instructor I really like. I was glad to have a moment with her. I needed to thank her for helping me out the week before, when I started swimming classes with my little “I’m two, almost three” adorable granddaughter.

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(This is a photo from the Prescott YMCA, this is not me and my granddaughter )

These are those classes where the parent/grandparent/foster parent is in the pool with the little one, helping them to be slithery fishes, or to safely enter and exit the pool, and we were having a great time until, in her two year old way, she suddenly looked at me and wished I were her mother.

Her face got all screwed up, and I was afraid she was going to cry, so I tried distracting her and it just made things worse.

“I want Mommy!” she cried, little tears streaming down her face. “I want Mommy!”

So I’m trying to explain that Mommy has to work, and that Mommy is not at home, I’m being all rational and my friend, who is also instructing that class, comes up and looks her in the eye and says “It’s OK to be sad! It’s OK to want your Mommy.”

It is?

I am so embarrassed to tell you this, but this was news to me. I grew up with a Dad who said “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” It wasn’t just my Dad, it was a generational thing. Crying was unacceptable. I think maybe being sad was unacceptable.

Little grand-daughter stopped crying. Her face showed such yearning. My friend, the instructor told her it’s OK to miss her Mommy and that for today, maybe she could have fun with her Grandmama, me, and little grand-daughter agreed.

From then on, everything was fine.

So I said “thank you for helping me out. We had a great class together Thursday. I’ve been thinking about how you handled her crisis, and how we never said things like that to our kids, but what a difference it made!”

My friend, the instructor also has a two year old, and just grinned. She explained to me about the effects of validation, and that we all need to express our feelings, and to have our feelings acknowledged, and then we can move on. It’s not something I know how to do very well, but I have seen it how effectively it works and I think I am going to learn how to do it myself.

Really, this was more a cross-generational difference, but generational differences are also a sort of cultural difference, are they not?

June 30, 2016 Posted by | Aging, Communication, Cross Cultural, Family Issues, Generational, Parenting, Relationships, Stranger in a Strange Land | , , | 7 Comments

Cross Culture at the Y

It’s a day I like in Pensacola; it may be summer and still hot and humid, but a little cooler today, with a cloud cover. I woke up refreshed, relaxed, having slept well, and actually, I sort of hoped for thunder so I could skip going to the YMCA for Water Aerobics, and stay home and finish up some quilting.

No such luck – no thunder. The skies were threatening, and leaky, but without the drama of thunder and lightning. No matter. The truth is, I don’t just go because I want to stay fit and strong, I also go because I feel better and more energetic after I’m done.

In retrospect, I would have missed a lot if I had missed today. In the fifteen or twenty minutes before the class, I heard some powerful messages, and I knew I was meant to be there. So my next three posts are about my cross-generational, cross-cultural experiences at my water aerobics class this morning.

June 30, 2016 Posted by | Aging, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Exercise, ExPat Life, Faith, Friends & Friendship, Parenting, Pensacola, Quality of Life Issues, Relationships, Social Issues, Stranger in a Strange Land, Values | , | 1 Comment

“You Go Into Southern Belle Mode”

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I’ve added a new category; I’ve written so many posts in this vein, and it looks like I will continue so to do. Might as well add it as a staple:  Stranger in a Strange Land.

Probably the first mention of that phrase in literature is in Genesis; Moses kills an Egyptian and flees to the desert where he meets a nice girl and marries her. He refers to himself as an alien, a stranger in a strange land. Both Jewish culture and Islamic culture put a high value on taking care of the stranger. Our bible is full of references to taking care of the alien.

Here is one of my favorite stories about what my friend Donald Rumsfeld calls those “unknown unknowns. It’s what you don’t know you don’t know that gets you into trouble.

I was at a party, and in a conversation with two women who are widows. We were talking about some of the difficulties, and what has caught them by surprise.

I said I didn’t know how they got through it, that I had a feeling if AdventureMan goes before I go, I’m going to be really really angry, tearing my hair out and shrieking angry, shredding my clothes angry, not wanting to be around other people angry, so so so so angry because if I let myself feel sad I don’t know if I can ever pull myself out of that abyss.

The newest widow just looked at me like I had said something culturally inappropriate, which, it turns out, I had. There was one of those brief silences, you know, it may only be seconds but it feels like it goes on forever because you don’t know what you said.

“If you were from around here,” she said, “You’d know what to do. You go into Southern Belle mode. We’ve all seen it all our lives, so we know how to do it. You pick out your clothes. You smile and shake hands. You put your guests first. You stand and smile until the last guest has gone.”

I was stunned. “You hold yourself together through all that?” I asked.

“Well,” she said with a smile, “You have a plan. You know where you can go with a friend or cousin after the funeral, a place where you are safe and where you can get knee-walking drunk and do your wailing where you need to and no one will ever know.”

She didn’t even have to say “You must not be from around here” but I heard it, loud and clear. There are standards. No weeping and wailing, no public display of emotion, no lack of self-control, oh-my-goodness, I think I must be back in the Middle East. I am in my own country, and still, very much a stranger in a strange land.

 

June 6, 2016 Posted by | Aging, Character, Circle of Life and Death, Civility, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Florida, Friends & Friendship, Local Lore, Pensacola, Relationships, Stranger in a Strange Land | 2 Comments